Creating and launching a game is chock-full of unexpected obstacles, roadblocks, and ultimately, stress. As a solo developer, Neil “Aerial_Knight” Jones has experienced these firsthand, which he unpacked at our recent webinar, Learn the true costs and tips for creating a game. We sat down with Jones to delve deeper into each phase of game development, and his approaches for taking them on.
Let’s start with the concepting phase: Were you ever faced with a situation where you needed to pivot to another strategy completely? Or were you able to find ways to work through it?
In the early concepting phase of narrative runner game Never Yield, there were a few additional mechanics I was playing around with. The goal for me was to prepare everything that would be in the game in one vertical slice; something playable that I could test out.
There were a few mechanics that I ended up removing just because I didn’t really enjoy those parts. So the pivot was about shifting my focus to what could work for players, what was fun, while also making different tweaks, now and then, to change things up.
Does platform choice dictate concepting, or does concepting dictate platform choice? How do you generally decide where to target your game?
Platform choice has an effect on the game if you have something specific in mind for the mechanics and the way you want people to play it. Nintendo is particularly good at this. When we think about Ring Fit Adventure or Wii Sports, for example, we keep the hardware in mind. But for most games, it shouldn’t matter too much, unless you’re making something very graphics-heavy. But even then, there are ways around that, depending on how much backing you have to optimize it for each platform you’re looking at.
What does prototyping mean to you? How do you know when you’re ready to move to the next stage of building your game?
Prototyping is a chance to see if the game you want to make actually works – to test it and give it to other people, to gauge their interest. I personally know that my prototype is ready when I truly enjoy playing it.
It’s a big decision, as the game that you choose to move forward with is something that you’re investing a lot of time and money into. It’s something that you’ll have to stick with for years (if you finish), in the hopes that it will sell and people will be interested in it by the time it comes out. So before making that kind of decision, I ask myself: Is this something I really want to stare at for the next two years?
Now, onto preproduction. How do you decide what comes out of prototyping and into production?
When watching people playtest, I look at what parts make them lean forward in their chair. Then I ask them what they like and take note of the first three things they bring up as far as gameplay.
I also recommend having kids playtest! They’re always honest about what they like and what they don’t.
As production begins, how soon do you decide to start testing? How do you go about checking for bugs and usability?
You should test ASAP, even in the prototyping stage. If you test as you build, you can prevent small unknown issues from growing into larger ones.
I ran into this issue early on when I was making obstacles for Never Yield. Instead of making all of my obstacles into prefabs, so that I could update them all at once, each obstacle was its own unique entity. But the problem came toward the end of development, when there needed to be a small change to the obstacles. Instead of having one core obstacle to update, I had to go back and update each individual one.
When is a game “done”?
This answer is different for everyone, but the most basic and real answer is that it’ll never be “done.” There are always bugs, things you could make better, animations that can be improved, and graphics to be updated. But then your game will never come out.
That’s why, for me, “done” is when you’re ready to let go. When you reach the point of needing it to be out in the world, and when you're ready to move on to the next game. Or, when you run out of money.
How do you handle the different platforms and stores when preparing to launch a game?
My previous game launched on multiple platforms at once, which is not something I think I’ll do again as a solo developer. The platforms are all different, and porting is just a big hassle. I’m also very small-scale, so keep that in mind.
Personally, I don’t see myself launching on more than two platforms at once moving forward. But sometimes these things can’t be helped.
Let’s talk about setting your game up for success. What things do you need to do ahead of time so that when your game launches, you’re ready for the future?
Hope and luck (haha), unless you know what people are going to want, and when they’ll want it. You just have to lean in on making something cool, interesting, and fun – and then have the marketing to back that up. I think the biggest mistake a lot of people make, even publishers, is not having a marketing plan outlined early on that complements the game well.
So, essentially: Plan, work, plan some more, work some more, and stay hopeful. Sounds about right! Thank you so much for your time, Neil. We look forward to seeing what you have in store for us next.